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Evelyn Greathouse

Greathouse created Boone, a pastel of a friend’s pet that had recently died.
Veterinarian finds her artistic inspiration at work

When you walk into Lakeview Animal Hospital in Portage, you can’t help but notice a large portrait of a formidable-looking black horse that hangs behind the office’s reception desk. It’s the artwork of Evelyn Greathouse, who is known by clients here as veterinarian Dr. Evelyn Bartlett.

Greathouse has been rendering animal and human subjects in her pastels since 1996, in addition to working as an animal doctor and co-owner of Lakeview Animal Hospital. In fact, many pieces of Greathouse’s work hang in the animal clinic examination rooms and are not only appreciated by clients but have caught the attention of others.

The large pastel portrait of the horse is a copy of the original, which was commissioned by Dr. David Ramsey, a veterinary ophthalmologist in Williamston who asked Greathouse to create this likeness of his Friesian horse, Ivan, as a surprise for his wife. Ramsey, who himself moonlights as an artist, carving sculptures of horses from exotic burl wood, found Greathouse after one of her pastels appeared on the cover of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) in 2011.

Each month the journal features an original piece of art on its cover, and Greathouse had submitted for consideration a pastel of a chocolate Labrador retriever titled Jake. For two years she heard nothing. Then one day while Greathouse was seeing patients, her phone rang. It was a representative from JAVMA announcing that the journal had selected her pastel for the cover of its May 15, 2011, issue.

“I screamed because I was surprised and excited,” Greathouse says. “Never in a million years did I think my artwork would get selected for a national magazine.”

For the portrait of Ivan, Ramsey provided Greathouse with snapshots of the horse. When using people’s pet photos to create her art, Greathouse looks for an unusual angle or something distinctive about the subject. In creating Ivan, Greathouse selected a photo that best captured the horse’s personality, but she also wanted to include a human aspect in the piece.

“I wanted a bit of her (Ramsey’s wife) in it,” she explains, “but not so much that it was a portrait of her, but it was more about the animal, about Ivan.”

Greathouse often weaves this kind of sliver of a human element into her pieces. In Greathouse’s piece Magnum, a dog with expectant eyes rests on a sandy beach with a yellow tennis ball in his mouth. Nearby sit his person’s well-worn sandals. “Conveying that animal-human bond and the relationship between pets and their owners makes for a more unique portrait,” Greathouse says.

She creates her pastels in her “art studio,” a corner of her living room, and often has to remind her 15-year old son not to bounce soccer balls near her easel.
“In a perfect world I’d like a lot of sunlight and quiet and that kind of thing (for a studio),” she says, “but in reality I catch an hour here and there. I do one piece at a time. If I had a studio with several easels set up, I could probably jump back and forth.”

Being a mother, wife, veterinarian and artist undoubtedly requires a balancing act. It helps that she co-owns the veterinary clinic with her husband, Dr. Darrell Greathouse, in that it gives her a more flexible schedule. Still, things often happen that prevent Greathouse from returning to work on a piece for weeks. But even those moments present advantages.

“Actually it’s kind of cool because it’s almost like your thought processes were percolating during that time and you have more ideas,” she says.

A professed doodler as a child, Greathouse says she has always loved art. In her youth she worked with pencils, acrylics and some oils. In college she started pursuing an art major but then switched to her second passion — animals — believing she might make a better living as a veterinarian.

“I had grown up with pets all of my life and was able to relate to them,” Greathouse says. “There was a couple of experiences when I was growing up where I thought I could’ve done a better job than the veterinarian.”

After having four children, she nixed oil painting. Dropping everything and chasing after little ones didn’t mix well with using brushes coated in oil that quickly dry out. She says switching to colored pencils and pastels made it easier to stop working on a project and come back to it later.

Eventually Greathouse began working entirely in pastels, a medium resembling chalk that is created by combining powdered pigment and a binder. “You can overlap it and mix it more, and you can get a richer feel to it,” she explains. Greathouse says she and pastels “just clicked,” especially after she took a class at the Art House in Vicksburg. There she learned about certain techniques for applying pastels and types of pastel papers that hold more layers of color.

Greathouse admits that she not only enjoys creating art, but can’t help it. When she sees something unique and beautiful, she feels compelled to capture that image.

“There is peace in the precision and practice of transforming a blank slate into something that captures God’s beauty in the world,” she says, “while simultaneously revealing the talent (with which) he gifted humanity.”

Lisa Mackinder

Lisa’s work has previously appeared in various Chicken Soup for the Soul books, Animal Wellness, Dog World, Michigan Meetings and Events Magazine, MiBiz, and other publications. Though having covered a wide-range of topics, Lisa most enjoys composing people-centric pieces, as well as those featuring nature and animals. She lives in Portage with her husband, and when not at her Mac, participates in outdoor activities, including fly fishing, gardening and hiking.

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